Art of Accounting: Getting in on the Ground Floor of Sustainability

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My Art of Accounting columns are autobiographical and some tell about things that happened decades ago—although they’re still relevant—and hopefully there are takeaways you can benefit from. Today’s column is about something just starting to happen and presents an opportunity for you to get in on the ground floor of what could become a hot area for additional revenues. The overall topic has various names, two of which are sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

We all know something about the deteriorating environment, greenhouse gases and global warming. However if you are like me, you really don’t know squat about it. About a year ago I was introduced to this area of potential business from two sources pretty simultaneously. Chris Frederiksen sent me a gift of a book about the history of accounting by Jane Gleeson-White. Half the book was about the measurement issues of sustainability and how accountants could be the main people performing these services. I also heard her deliver a speech in which she presented her suggestions. Soon after that I had lunch with Stanley Goldstein, who also raised the future potential of accountants getting involved in this new area.

After the lunch I had a meeting with a client who is an important real estate developer and asked him if he had any thoughts on sustainability. He gave me an earful. It seems this was an important issue for him and he was very well informed. I went from knowing nothing and not caring to still knowing nothing but starting to think that I should care about it.

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Very soon afterwards through Stanley I was asked if I was interested in joining the soon to be formed Sustainability Accounting Committee of the New York State Society of CPAs, which I did. Even though this committee had two meetings, I am starting to meet new people as we try to develop what accountants need to do. It is exciting since we are all on an equal playing field and it could be something big.

This is an up-to-date description of my involvement, which in some respects was by accident through a confluence of a number of events. At this point I do not know where any of this will lead, but if it develops the right way it could become a major area for business development.

I am extending an invitation to readers to also get involved. In the New York area, CPAs are welcome to join the Sustainability Committee. We will be having an eight-hour CPE conference on May 6 that you could attend. If you are not in New York, you can reach out to your state CPA society and see what is being offered. Following this column I have inserted some links so you can find out more about this crucial area for humanity and an exciting opportunity for business development.

Resources:

• Sustainability Investment Leadership Council: www.silcny.com
• May 6 conference: http://silcny.com/event/2016-silc-conference/
• Sustainability Accounting Standards Board: http://www.sasb.org/
• Tiffany Sustainability report with an opinion by PwC: https://www.tiffany.com/CSR/
• Pepsico report: http://www.pepsico.com/Purpose/Performance-with-Purpose/Sustainability-Reporting
• ExxonMobil report: http://read.uberflip.com/i/514689-exxonmobil-2014-ccr-fullreport-digital-final
• KPMG web site: https://advisory.kpmg.us/risk-consulting/iarcs/sustainability-services.html
• Book referred to above: Double Entry / How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance by Jane Gleeson-White. This book has a great history of accounting and an introduction to Sustainability reporting. Her latest book is Six Capitals, also recommended.

I am frequently asked how I got involved in so many different areas. This article shows how and gives you the opportunity to also get into something on the ground floor.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, published by www.CPATrendlines.com and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition,” published by the AICPA. Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at www.partners-network.com. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or emendlowitz@withum.com.

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